MELBOURNE, Australia -- Melbourne City capitalised on a nightmarish 15-minute first-half stretch from bitter rivals Melbourne Victory to ease to a 2-0 Melbourne Derby win at AAMI Park on Saturday evening.
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After a promising opening in which they created a series of chances, Victory marquee signing Nani clumsily gave away a VAR-adjudged penalty that was converted by Jamie Maclaren. Then, two minutes later, Cadete scored an own goal that effectively killed the game off for Tony Popovic's men.
With Victory captain Josh Brillante seeing red soon after, the remainder of the contest turned into an exercise in game management for the defending A-League Men premiers, who eased their way to the three points and the right to call themselves the biggest dog in the Melbourne yard.
1. Victory and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 15 minutes
All things considered, things didn't start too badly for Victory. With a packed-out and very vocal North Terrace at their backs, Popovic's side created two strong chances across a highly energetic opening. Just two minutes in, Chris Ikonomidis headed his own deflected shot down for Nick D'Agostino to shoot and force a save from City keeper Tom Glover. Brillante, somehow, then headed a Cadete cross straight into Glover at a range when it looked harder to miss than score six minutes later. Disappointing to not be one-up, but promising.
But when Nani lunged in an attempt to dispossess Mat Leckie on the edge of his penalty area, everything went pear-shaped. After initially escaping the wrath of referee Alireza Faghani, VAR adjudged that the Portugal star had lodged his studs into his opponent's ankle and that he had done so inside the box, with Maclaren striking true with the resulting penalty in the 17th minute. Two minutes later, a short corner routine between Valon Berisha and Marco Tilio saw the former's cross bamboozle both City and Victory players alike on its way to bouncing off the post, off an unfortunate Cadete's knee, and into the back of the net. Down 2-0 inside 20 minutes.
A Brillante effort off a Nani cutback forced Glover into a strong save in the 32nd minute to provide some signs of hope, but Victory's captain put a bow on a first half to forget just three minutes later when he picked up a second yellow card for a needless and reckless challenge on Aiden O'Neill. It would have been a silly challenge to make at the best of times but, given the broader context, was a colossal lapse in judgement.
2. The City train keeps on rolling
After wins over a listless Western United and a Brisbane Roar side that doesn't appear to be much good, Saturday evening loomed as the first major test of Melbourne City's credentials this season. And with a 2-0 win now in tow, it's impossible to say that they did anything other than pass.
Rather than replace the suspended Taras Gomulka with a similarly defensive-minded player, coach Patrick Kisnorbo instead opted to deploy a more attacking lineup by shifting Leckie into an advanced midfield role alongside Berisha and placing Tilio on the wing.
Though helped by Brillante's substandard display, it was an arrangement that gave the side in light blue an edge over the darker-hued and more defensively-minded rivals in the middle of the park. A backline that added Curtis Good just moments before Scott Jamieson failed a late fitness test also kept a clean sheet.
Of course, there are still some areas of improvement. If Brillante's early effort goes anywhere other than at Glover the game shifts dramatically; Victory able to sit back and look to hit on the counter rather than the inverse arrangement that occurred just over 10 minutes later. Both City's goals were delivered via set pieces rather than open play and their ability to create high-quality looks on goal remains worthy of observation. Victory also created more looks on goal in a better second-half performance and even Kisnorbo acknowledged that they could have improved on some things. But in the end, they got the three points.
3. World Cup Stock Watch
Whereas the line from City, inevitably, will be that the three points were the only consideration, the looming World Cup meant that it meant a little more to a number in their ranks -- particularly Tilio. After playing a combined 17-minutes across the season's two weeks, the 21-year-old's hopes for Qatar were hanging by a thread as he was handed a first start of the season and, with Socceroos coach Graham Arnold watching on, needed to impress.
And in the end, the attacker was just ... good. Not bad or a liability but also not one of the main difference-makers in the contest. His effort to steal the ball off Stefan Nigro, advance into the area and force a strong save from Paul Izzo in the 42nd minute demonstrated the (significant) skill and potential that he has but he was lucky to be even on the pitch to do it after clumsily taking Nani out in the 28th minute. And, like in week one, he missed a gilt-edged chance late on.
His chances of making the World Cup squad are likely better than what they were before the game simply by virtue of getting 90 minutes, but this was a performance that was more incremental towards his World Cup challenges than a loud assertion of his place.
Elsewhere, not that there was much doubt about it anyway, but after three games, three wins, and three positive performances, Leckie and Maclaren have likely sealed their spots in Qatar.
Melbourne Victory: Izzo 6, Nigro 5, Miranda 6, Timotheou 6, Cadete 5, Brillante 2, Marchan 4, Brimmer 4, Nani 4, D'Agostino 5, Ikonomidis 5
Melbourne City: Glover 7, Bos 8, Good 6, Lam 7, Talbot 7.5, O'Neill 7, Berisha 7, Leckie 8, Tilio 7, Maclaren 7, Nabbout 6.5
Best and worst performers
BEST: Jordan Bos
Coming up against a player with the type of resume that Nani has, one would have forgiven Bos for feeling overawed. There aren't many 19-year-olds around the world, let alone in the ALM, that would feel otherwise. And yet throughout the contest, it was the City academy prospect that had the better of the match-up with the former Manchester United star: Forcing him to the periphery of the Victory attack for long periods and adding another element to City's attacking play through his overlapping and inverting efforts.
WORST: Josh Brillante
The opening Melbourne Derby of the 2022-23 season will not be one that Brillante will want to revisit any time soon. The early headed effort that he sent straight at Glover would have served to shift the contest's entire dynamic and his subsequent red card effectively made it impossible for his side to come back into the contest.
Highlights and notable moments
VAR adjudged that Nani had fouled Leckie to give away a penalty, and Maclaren made no mistake.
A short corner routine led to an own goal that doubled City's lead.
CITY DOUBLE THEIR LEAD!! ⚽⚽— Paramount+ Australia (@ParamountPlusAU) October 22, 2022
Something straight from the training ground! It'll go down as an own goal but @MelbourneCity won't care 💪
The #MelbDerby is live now on Paramount+ 📺 pic.twitter.com/VpclfDOwDw
Compounding Victory's first-half goals Brillante saw red after his second yellow of the game
After the match: What the managers, players said
Popovic: "I thought the whole game was positive, I thought we were the better team from the start to the end. So the scoreline doesn't reflect that. We gave away two soft goals, and credit to Melbourne City, they punished us."
Kisnorbo on the result: "It was two teams going into battle. I think in the first half you could see the level of both teams; I think we were very good in what we did. Second half, I think there are some areas that we need to improve on. But we still created the chances but at the end of the day, [Izzo] made a couple of very good saves. But I'm happy with the character.
"Derby games are a bit different. Sometimes your performance has to take a step back and the fighting and the work rate takes over and that's what I'm happy with tonight."
Kisnorbo on Tilio World Cup noise: "It's very easy, just don't listen. It's very simple. Whatever happens outside. Football is about opinions.
"My job here is to worry about Melbourne City, the club, the playing group, and everyone a part of that. My job isn't anything else besides that.
"That's a fact."
- Melbourne City broke a four-game run without a win in the Melbourne Derby, their last triumph coming in the 2020-21 season.
- Maclaren overtook Besart Berisha to become the all-time leading scorer in the Victory vs. City/Heart with 10 goals.
- Victory has now lost three of their last four competitive fixtures in 2022-23, and their last four games at AAMI Park dating back to last season.
Melbourne Victory: Now on a two-game losing run, Victory will look to right the ship next week when they travel to face Brisbane Roar on Saturday afternoon.
Western Sydney Wanderers: Three wins from their opening three games in their back pocket, City will now turn their thoughts to Wellington Phoenix's trip to AAMI Park next Sunday evening.